Why Americans are rejecting the Squad’s ‘anti-Zionism’

The fall of Jamaal Bowman confirms that anti-Israel activism is an elite preoccupation.

Batya Ungar-Sargon

Topics Politics USA

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New York has handed a stinging defeat to congressman Jamaal Bowman, a member of the ‘Squad’ of young, progressive House Democrats. Tuesday’s primary election gave Bowman’s challenger, George Latimer, a 60-40 victory over the incumbent. The narrative you will hear from the left that dominates the mainstream media is that Bowman was defeated by the deep coffers of the ‘Israel lobby’ and by American Jews who opposed his unwavering support for Palestinians. According to this narrative, the Democratic Party is split over Israel. Old-school, establishment Democrats like Latimer and President Joe Biden still support Israel, but a younger generation of voters and politicians, like the Squad, include the Palestinians in their vision of a more just world.

There’s only one problem with this narrative: it’s nonsense.

Yes, it’s true that a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spent a record $15million on Latimer, making his race with Bowman the most expensive House primary in American history. Yet Bowman was already trailing Latimer by 17 points back in April, before AIPAC made a single ad buy. Contrary to what the left believes, money in politics just does not correlate with victory in such a simple way (just ask Nikki Haley).

It’s also true that American Jews have been disgusted by Bowman’s commentary around Israel. But while the left portrays him as simply a warrior for Palestinians and for peace in Gaza, his ‘advocacy’ has included dismissing reports of Hamas’s mass rape of Israeli women on 7 October as ‘propaganda’, using ‘Zionist’ as a slur and referring to Israel as ‘another settler-colonial project’. He has also turned American Jews into a bogeyman – even blaming them for rising anti-Semitism. This isn’t advocacy for Palestinians. It reflects a particular kind of elite, woke mindset applied to the Middle East.

Like most of America’s cultural battles, this one is a class battle in disguise. It’s a symptom of a much larger divide in the US between an over-credentialed elite and America’s working class. And while the Squad masquerades as the champions of ‘black and brown’ working-class communities, both domestically and in the Middle East, its real national base is, in fact, rich progressives – a small, rancorous elite. These are the only Americans aside from far-right white supremacists who have a problem with Israel, and who find it hard to condemn Hamas and easier to question its rape victims.

It’s no accident that the vast majority of pro-Palestinian activism in the US has happened on college campuses. Unlike in Europe or Canada, there is no wellspring of support from average Americans for this cause. The universities aren’t the tip of some broader anti-Israel iceberg – they are the entire iceberg. Average Americans do disagree over the level of economic support that should be given to Israel, and whether that support should be unconditional – fair questions in a democracy, for sure. But they would never endorse the Iran-backed terrorists controlling the Gaza Strip. For that, you need a college degree. Indeed, the more degrees you have, the more likely you are to find yourself calling for resistance to Israel ‘by any means necessary’. Hence the college professors joining the encampments and giving students extra credit for going.

Of course, Israel is only one example of the great American class divide masquerading as a cultural one. Lockdowns and aggressive Covid-19 restrictions, which Bowman and the progressive left supported, also played into the interests of the educated rich. From their home offices, the laptop caste saw the prices of their houses radically inflate. Working-class and poor kids – many of them black and brown – were kept out of school in blue states for years, reduced to remote ‘learning’ on borrowed laptops with no supervision. Meanwhile, the children of the credentialed elite were promptly returned to their leafy private-school campuses, progressing further ahead of their poorer counterparts and widening the already yawning educational divide.

The Defund the Police movement, which began in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, is another favourite of the Squad. This similarly pitted working-class people of colour, the majority of the victims of violent crime, against rich, white progressives. The elites got high on the fumes of their own virtue, even as they sentenced their poorer neighbours to a crime wave. Radical environmentalism is another form of class warfare waged by progressive elites against working-class folks. As are open-border immigration policies. These amount to a form of wage theft, where those who work with their hands for a living have to compete with millions of additional workers. This does, of course, bring down costs for rich white progressives – the consumers of low-wage labour.

Anti-Zionism is like Defund the Police – it is an alien ideology imported by woke elites. How alien was Jamaal Bowman’s anti-Zionism? The big rally he held with superstars Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the weekend, in which he cursed out AIPAC and made Israel the centrepiece of his address, was not even held in his own district.

In classic woke fashion, Bowman repeatedly accused his opponent of racism and pro-Israel groups of being part of a ‘Zionist regime’, supposedly working to buy the primary election and ‘brainwash people into believing something that isn’t true’. In truth, it was Bowman, not American Jews nor the pro-Israel lobby, who was trying to turn the election into a referendum on Israel, just as the left more broadly has seemingly abandoned all domestic-agenda items in favour of the Palestinian cause.

The American left’s obsession with Palestine is a marker of its privilege. You need immense economic security to prioritise foreign policy during a cost-of-living crisis, where housing costs have skyrocketed and the price of groceries is up by double digits compared with 2020. Indeed, when Bowman won his seat four years ago, he criticised his then opponent for ‘spending too much time on issues so far from his district’. Oh the irony!

Bowman is the first Squad member to be ousted, but he won’t be the last. At the end of the day, the Squad, like the progressive left more broadly, represents only a small elite. Its views were fomented in the lab of American universities and are totally at odds with both the cultural and economic interests of the working class.

That’s the real story behind Bowman’s stinging defeat.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is a spiked columnist and author of Second Class: How the Elites Betrayed America’s Working Men and Women.

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Topics Politics USA


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